By the time Jack is preparing to start his first year at Concrete High School, he has saved up eighty dollars and concocted a plan to use the money to run away to Alaska under an assumed name. He plans to send for Rosemary once he’s gotten settled there, and spends a lot of time fantasizing about the tearful reunion they’ll have at the door of his rustic cabin in the wilderness. He is planning to run away from Dwight in November, in Seattle, at the Scouts’ annual Gathering of the Tribes. He knows Dwight will be drinking with the other Scoutmasters, and he will have time to slip away. Jack has told Arthur about his plan, and after Arthur begged to join, he reluctantly agreed to take Arthur with him on his journey.
As things at home have gotten worse and worse, Jack’s fantasies of his own escape—and of delivering his mother from Dwight’s horrible household—have intensified to the point where he believes he can make them into a reality.
Arthur’s family life is not violent like Jack’s, but he’s nevertheless dissatisfied with his parents. Arthur spends a lot of his time telling Jack lofty stories about how his “real family” is descended from Scottish royalty who were forced to go into hiding in France. Jack, who reads the same books for school as Arthur, recognizes that he is stealing from the plot of novels to lie, but because Jack tells so many lies and stories about his own ancestors, he accepts Arthur’s stories excitedly. He thinks that they are one another’s perfect witnesses—they do one another the favor of believing each other’s outlandish tales, feeling that the “real lie” of their lives is their “present unworthy circumstances.”
Arthur has his own set of problems, and, like Jack, uses storytelling, invention, and fantasy to escape the feeling that he is stuck in a life he does not want and will never be able to thrive in. Jack and Arthur bond over their shared feelings of being alone and out of place, and they feed one another’s fantasies without realizing what the consequences of such symbiotic behavior might be.
As Arthur and Jack have grown closer, they’ve spent more and more time together, sleeping over at one another’s houses. One night, they share a kiss; it is a one-time incident, and it leads to an increase in tension between the two boys for a time. They “often” have blowups, and after a few days apart, resume their friendship as if nothing had happened.
Arthur and Jack sublimate the tension—sexual and otherwise—in their relationship by abusing and harassing one another and getting into fights. Violence is the only way they know how to deal with their confusing feelings.
Jack packs a change of clothes in a duffel bag for the Gathering—he doesn’t want to be recognized in his Scout uniform as he makes his way up to Alaska. During the Gathering he and Arthur stay clear of one another, participating in their separate events. Jack finds himself transfixed by a troop from a neighboring town, whose smart uniforms and success as a drill team are flashy and exciting. At lunch, Jack talks to some of the boys, and they trade stories and jokes. Arthur sees Jack going off with the boys to smoke cigarettes, but doesn’t join them. When Arthur comes back inside, Arthur approaches him and says he wants to leave and start out for Alaska, but Jack deflects and tells Arthur to “hold his horses” while he plays games with the boys from the other troop.
Arthur is dependent on his friendship with Jack, and when he gets wind of Jack’s plan to escape to Alaska, he wants to join him. Jack, however, perhaps never intended to truly run away; he is easily distracted by the prospect of new, better friendships. This shows that perhaps Arthur needs the dual fantasies that he and Jack concoct even more than Jack does.
After the Gathering, Jack stands with the rest of his troop, waiting to be picked up. He knows that Dwight will be drunk, and doesn’t want to be alone with him. He begs Arthur to drive back with them, but Arthur won’t talk to him. Jack tries to give Arthur one of the prizes he won playing a carnival game at the Gathering, and Arthur reluctantly takes it.
Jack tries to repair things with Arthur in this passage, but it’s clear that he has let his best friend down enormously and shattered something between them.